I grew up in the church. I can't tell you how many times I've said that phrase. Usually it's in response to a question. Like, "how long have you been a Christian?" or "tell me a bit about yourself..." or "why do you have so many psychological problems?" (you'd be surprised how much I get that last one). Church is where I made friends, hung out, played dumb youth group games, oh and learned a bit about someone called Jesus. The church has always been a part of my life. For better or worse. I've seen people's lives be miraculously transformed, I've seen people become bitter, I've seen enormous good and heart-breaking bad. I'm always reminded that as long as the church is filled with people, it will be flawed. But thank God we don't get to have the last word. The church (and the people in it) have had a part in shaping me into the person I am today. And I've realized the responsibility that our generation has in shaping what the church will be in the years to come. The church is not just our parents' church. It's ours. Our generation is really great at pointing out things that are broken or being misused, but we're not great at fixing things. To quote the prophet Kanye West, "I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most." Maybe that's an over-generalization, but I do know that I am really great at complaining, but not so good at finding a solution. So here are a few rambling thoughts on some issues that I've began to notice with the church, which our generation is going to be tasked with challenging:
(Just a side-note: I'm not pointing out these things to simply bash the
church. I actually see great things within the church as it stands and I
just want us to be aware of how we get in the way of God working and
doing good in the world. Also, I know there are many more problems
ailing the church/world and these might not seem applicable to your
situation, these are just what I've began to notice in my own context.)
* Our buildings and programs are all designed to get people to fall into
place. You are supposed to come as a new person, feel welcomed, sing
some songs, listen to the sermon, maybe even get involved with a bible
study, and then find an area where you can "serve" at the church. In the
midst of this process you're supposed to become a Christian. Usually by
that we mean saying a prayer and agreeing to an established set of
doctrines. In this system, the mark of a "healthy Christian" is a person
who has signed off on the church's statement of faith, attends a weekly
bible study, raises their hands during worship, and serves as a usher
on Sunday mornings. Churches are set up to accommodate this conversion
process on a large scale. Our services are set up to welcome as many
people as possible. But what if this modern, industrialized version of
church was actually making it harder to actually follow Christ's
* The church has become more like an event we attend, rather than a
place to encourage one another towards doing good. Church should never
be the main event. It should be the epicenter of transformation that
sends out grace-filled people to make the broken things of the world
become new again. The church is often just a series of routines to learn
and patterns to follow, but it could be so much more than than. Maybe
sometimes I don't want it to be more than that, but I've seen some
beautiful things come out of taking God's call to be ministers of
reconciliation. And I can't help but wonder if there's more to life than
Sunday mornings and weekly routines.
* When does church and it's popular structure get in the way of us doing
what God has called us to? What if God was asking us to feed the hungry
and we said, "sorry God, I have to go to church"? What if God was
asking us to give water to the thirsty and we said, "sorry God, I have
worship team practice"? What if God was asking us to care for the widows
and the orphans and we said, "sorry God, I have bible study tonight"?
Our church structures have the possibility to transform us or to stifle
our growth. We must be acutely aware of the tension that presides in our
churches and if a tradition is causing us to act less like Christ, then
we need to reevaluate and possibly change it.
* Going to church doesn't make you a great person. Being a Christian
doesn't make you a great person. In fact, some of the nicest, kindest,
Jesus-like people I've ever met have been people that considered
themselves "searching agnostics". And I've met some Christians that
consider themselves as the arbiter of truth who think they are so
righteous, holy, and yet are complete jerks. It's better to be a humble
searching agnostic, than a prideful Christian. When we believe (as the
church has sometimes taught us) that we have all the answers, then we
have sorely missed out on what it means to follow Jesus. Was Jesus
sometimes about giving the "right answer"? Yes. But his life was
dedicated to something much greater. He summed it up when he said,
"‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You
shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" His life was dedicated to love.
Love enough to heal, love enough to listen, love enough to die for his
friends and his enemies.
* I've been learning a lot about what it means to be a great leader. The
best leaders I've ever met try to get their ego out of the way as much
as possible, lead by serving, and are vulnerable with the people they
are leading. I've learned that a pastor's job is not to be a great
preacher, it's to instruct and encourage everyone in the church to be
their own pastor. Their job is to give over power by training the
members of the congregation to develop their own ability and authority
as a follower of Christ. Our churches often have the mindset that the
pastor is the holder of all knowledge and we are supposed to attend
church to absorb that knowledge like a sponge. Never daring to question.
You can even see it in the way that our churches are physically set up.
The preacher is up front, often on a literal pedestal, and the
congregation is sitting in rows to be guided by their leader. This has
caused us to place undue responsibility on our pastors to be holy people
while we get on with normal everyday life. We have to recognize that
all of us has a mixture of the ordinary and the divine within us.
* We all
have the responsibility to constantly die to our self and be transformed
to look more like Christ.
Nathan Jeffers is a fellow graduate of Biola University. He tweets about 1,800 times and hosts Listen, a marvelous organization of searching souls in search of searching. You can enjoy their delightful podcast there as well.